MBA vs. Master of Finance degree vs. CPA vs. CFA — what’s best?

Career, MBA topics

I often get questions from readers like the following one, which ask me about whether to choose an MBA vs. another degree like a Master of Finance, or even between an certification like a or a :

    Example 1: I recently came across your blog when I was trying to learn how to use Vlookup and Pivot table, and wanted to thank you for making it so simple to understand. I also began reading some of your other posts and see that you have a lot of knowledge about business education and the corporate world. I’m currently a senior in economics at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and I will be graduating this June. I want to become a financial analyst, but I haven’t been able to find a job. So I’m considering applying for a Masters in Finance at University of San Francisco. What is your opinion about such a program? To me the upside of the program is that it’s only a year long and it takes recent graduates with no significant work experience. However, University of San Francisco is not a very prestigious school and I’m not sure how much a Masters in Finance will improve my chances of finding a job. The program is very expensive ($40,000) and I don’t want to spend that kind of money if employers wont consider it to be important. Thank you once again for your blog and I look forward to hearing back from you.

    Example 2: I’m a MBA finance option student in Alabama, US. First I would like to thank you for all materials that you post on your web-site. They are very helpful. Sometimes if I don’t understand anything from my textbooks i go to They are easy to understand.

    I have noticed that in US if you want to be employed every employer requires you a certification like CPA, CFO even if you want to train somebody in the gym you really need to be certified. I would like to know what kind of certification exist for financiers?! I don’t have any working experience in finance field. But I have a 5 years IT manager experience. And I don’t think that it will be useful to be financially certified. I would really appreciate your help !!

Although the reason readers are asking about the value of an MBA or similar degree or certification differ, the examples above are pretty representative of the reasons that people decide to enroll in these programs.

There’s no one right answer to the questions above, but in general, I tend to advise people to go for an MBA at the best program they can get into for several reasons, at least here in the US:

  1. Unless you are 100% sure that you are going into Finance, an MBA will usually give you much more flexibility since it’s a general program.
  2. Employers are “trained” to recognize an MBA degree, whereas other degrees, like a Master of Finance, Master in Management Science, or even a Master in Public Administration tend to be lesser-known degrees.
  3. You can always supplement an MBA with a CFA or CPA certification to give you greater “credibility” if needed, and if you’re dedicated into going into Finance or Accounting.
  4. You never know if you will switch jobs or industries in the future (voluntarily or forced to, out of circumstance), and an MBA will again give you more flexibility of options.

Of course, there are times when you may want to get a more specialized degree for whatever reason. But in my experience, businesses and recruiters tend to pigeonhole candidates faster than ideal (for example, by scanning keywords in a resume), and someone with a Master in Finance degree will likely be overlooked for entry-level marketing or operations jobs, whereas someone with an MBA degree may be more likely to be considered. In short, the universe of options afforded to you by an MBA is much wider and the paths to get to a specialization much more numerous than if you choose to do another degree or certification.

MBA programs are notoriously expensive, however, and you want to make sure to choose the right one. I have an article I wrote a few years back about that’s still applicable even now.

Got a different opinion or perspective? Feel free to leave a comment!

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